Report: Hidden Health Benefits of an Open Office

A recent analysis of federal employees found that workers in open-office environments were more physically active than their cubicle counterparts, as well as less stressed.

There are a lot of mixed opinions about open-plan offices—that they frustrate workers, for example, or that they foster more collaboration. But a less-discussed aspect of the open-office format is its impact on employees’ health and well-being.

According to a new study, the effects are pretty positive. In a study published in Occupational & Environmental Medicine [registration], researchers at the University of Arizona found that the open-office environment encourages more physical activity and helps to decrease stress.

The study analyzed 231 federal workers, using activity sensors to track their movements both inside and outside of work. The researchers found that employees who worked in an open-office format engaged in 32 percent more physical activity than workers in enclosed offices and 20 percent more than those who sat in cubicles.

The UA researchers worked with the U.S. General Services Administration and a number of other research facilities to conduct the study. GSA acquires and manages workspace for federal agencies, supporting a workforce of more than 1 million government employees.

Lead author Casey Lindberg said the results shed light on how design decisions affect health. “Objective measurements using wearable sensors can inform policies and practices that affect the health and well-being of hundreds of millions of office workers worldwide,” said Lindberg, a research associate for UA’s Institute on Place, Wellbeing, and Performance, in a news release.

As Fast Company notes, in addition to wearing the sensors, the subjects were asked to report how tense they felt each hour.  Researchers found that those in open-office environments tended to feel less stress at the end of the day—though the difference wasn’t nearly as dramatic (9 percent) as the difference in physical activity.

Dr. Esther Sternberg, director of the UA Center for Integrative Medicine, said the research “highlights how office design, driven by office workstation type, could be an important health-promoting factor.”

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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